Is A Compelling Testimony Required To Inspire Others?

The blogger behind Budgets are Sexy once asked if a you had to “have a story” to be a respected personal finance blogger. It was an interesting question on many different levels. I reflected on the number of times I’ve told pieces of my own story here at Frugal Dad, and in my personal life with friends and family, particularly my kids. While I don’t think a story is required to share inspiring thoughts with others, I do think it helps others relate to you.

Without a compelling story you might sound a little like the friend that likes to give marriage advice, but she’s never tied the knot. Or the couple that raise their eyebrows when you discipline your kids, but they never had children. Does that mean people who don’t have kids don’t have valuable things to say about how to raise children? Not necessarily, but it does make it difficult for parents to see them as a credible source of information.

Those examples might be a bit of a stretch. After all, personal finance is a bit of a different animal. One of my favorite writers, Jim Wang from Bargaineering, shares many excellent thoughts on managing money, including getting out of credit card debt. However, he admits that he has never had credit card debt. Does that mean I shouldn’t listen to his advice? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d be doing myself a disservice by not absorbing the information he shares on his blog.

Dave Ramsey is one of my favorite personal finance personalities, mostly because I find his life story compelling. He reached millionaire status early in life in leveraged real estate, lost it all through bankruptcy, and rebuilt his wealth by implementing the debt-free principles he lives by today. My guess is Dave Ramsey would not be as popular as he is without the fact he hit rock bottom at some point during his life. This helps him relate to others in similar situations, and provides them hope that they too can turn around their lives.

Does this mean if you hope to inspire others you should go bankrupt to be more credible? No. It means you should look at your own background, your own life story, to find your testimony. Everyone has some type of challenge in their life, and chances are they aren’t alone. Even those struggling with the rarest medical conditions find comfort in linking up with those dozen others in the world also diagnosed. Technology has made that possibility through applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

If you have an interest in writing, or doing video blogs, or your own radio show, I would encourage you to give it a try even if you feel you have an inadequate testimony. Whatever you decide to share, be honest with people. You might just find an audience out there for people who have never really struggled with money, but are more interested in the advanced personal finance concepts beyond building savings and getting out of debt.


  1. If the advice and information is good, its good. I don’t have a story either but enjoy discussing personal financial tips with others, both who may and those who do not cause you are always learning something new.

  2. I think one of the great things about reading/writing about personal finance is that everyone does have a story. Whether you’re rich, poor, black, white or purple, we all face the same challenge of getting money, paying bills and trying to have a little leftover for ourselves.

    If you haven’t been to the personal finance brink and back (or even if you have), we all share the goal of building (or maintaining) wealth while having a little fun along the way. Just the journey in itself is credibility.

  3. Concur with Kate – stories don’t have to have heartbreak to be compelling, they just have to resonate with the reader/listener.

  4. I certainly don’t believe that a writer in this field need have one particular type of story to connect with people. There are all sorts of different stories that can work. But I do believe that personal finance writing must have a personal element to it to be successful.

    I believe that we are in the early days of coming to understand what works in money management. The initial idea was that what people need are rules. Rules tend to come from the logical side of the brain and tend to connect with the logical side of the brain. The pure logic approach has been a miserable failure. The reality is that money issues are intensely emotional issues. Any advice that ignores the emotional side does not work.

    I of course do not mean to suggest that logic is not needed in this field. It is needed. But it must be supplemented with emotional wisdom. It is the successful combination of logical insights and emotional insights that connects with people. The reason why those with compelling stories generally do well is that the story connections with the emotional side of the brain of the listener.

    There are all sorts of possible stories that can be told. But there must be a story element of some kind in effective money advice, in my view.


  5. Every story is compelling to one person or another. Sometimes the testimony helps you associate with that writer, as stated in the article. Even the finance guy who has never had debt has had success. Thus his advice is compelling because he made it through. It makes you want to change and use his techniques going forward. The testimony may not be the experience of failure to success, it can also be the experience of success without failure. Being a parent make you more “credible”, but not an expert. Sometimes just watching teaches you so much more, i.e.-“seeing” what works for some parents & not for others.

  6. i really think that there are some area of personal finance that need a story like paying off debt within a specific time frame. it really helps readers to know that it has been done by a blogger and this motivates them to make similar goals. There are areas that personal stories are not necesary but help non the less like money saving tips. To digress a little Oprah in her talk show talks about money saving tips but she is the last one that would ever use them- this means that if you have info that would help people post the mather and see what happens.

  7. I don’t think an amazing story is required for someone to be an effective or inspiring writer – although having a good story can definitely give you a good boost! Some of my favorite personal finance writers don’t necessarily have an amazing roller coaster story of ups and downs, but they do have inspiring stories of how they’ve mastered their finances, are working towards financial independence and taking control of their financial lives.

    So no, I don’t think you need a compelling testimony to inspire, but it can’t hurt!

  8. The story is helpful, though not necessary as others have noticed. Humans as the social creatures we are tend to identify with those most similar to ourselves. Guys like Ramsey who have been to the edge of the abyss and come back with amazing success are one in a million, which could be a big part of his star power. He has, in other words, practiced what he preaches. He doesn’t look down his nose on people who are in debt; rather he can tell them that he honestly knows what they are going thru (i.e. he’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt) and that sometimes goes a long way to helping people who feel hopeless think: “hey, if this guy can do it, so can I.”
    We won’t all have Ramsey’s star-power regardless of whether we hit bottom or not, but we can benefit from his intensely motivating success as we achieve our own. It is something special to behold.

  9. Maybe it depends on what the reader is trying to learn.

    There’s a certain attraction to a story about someone who really has “been there and done that”. It’s inspiring. We all love Horatio Alger for that reason. Rags to riches, or better riches-to-rags-to-riches appeals to us.

    At the same time, when I’m looking for someone to imitate, I want someone who’s actually done whatever it is I want to do. Maybe that means saving for retirement, or investing. So if I haven’t fudged up so badly that I’m, say, completely wiped out… then recovering from that far down isn’t what I need advice about.

  10. Great topic! I’ve often felt as though my thoughts and ideas were somehow less compelling to potential readers, since I’ve never had a financial crisis or meltdown. If I hadn’t taken the plunge to go ahead and start a blog a few weeks ago, I’d certainly be doing it after reading this post!

  11. Thanks for the shout out my man, I’m glad it sparked some thoughts 🙂 I’ve come to realize that as long as you’re “real” and you make this finance stuff interesting, people tend to enjoy it – crazy story or not. I guess that’s why we call it Personal finance, eh?

    Looking forward to hearing more perspectives as people comment. Keep spreading the good word!

  12. For me, the story isn’t important to add credibility, the information IS. I want to know the steps someone took to achieve success so I can learn and follow. I don’t care if they started at the bottom or mid-way thru. How many writers (generally, not necessarily in finance) have recently been “out-ed” as frauds for created a sad life history to show credibility. An older couple allegedly meeting as children when he was in a concentration camp, the “million little pieces” guy (or whatever the title was) that Oprah originally praised, then was embarassed because it was a sham. I’m much more interested in the story, the how-to, the “meat” of the book, rather than the life history of the person writing it.

  13. Well, if I didn’t have some sort of unique angle, I’d never have anything to write that was unique, now would I? 😉

    While I hate leveraging the “girl” card, I’ll do it — I’m a girl, after all! And it gives me something different to bring to the table, which helps me get noticed and helps spread the message I’m trying to convey.

    No, I don’t write about money as much anymore, but it’s still the same sort of thing. Though I’d argue that for cars, it’s more important to show that I know my stuff… For obvious reasons, I’d think.

  14. A story isn’t necessary, but it sure helps, and usually makes for an interesting read!

    There are many ways in which our society will give equal weight or even preference to experience over education.

    As a colleague used to say – “I like my engineers to have a few grey hairs”